There is a growing -- though by no means complete -- consensus on the types of jobs performed in informatics. My view, based on the inventory of competencies developed by Covvey et al. , is that there are three general levels of informatics practice:
- Academic - an individual who does research and/or teaching, typically in an academic center
- Professional - an individual who works in an operational informatics setting for a majority of his or her working time, such as a Chief Information Officer, Chief Medical or Nursing Officer, or Project Manager or Leader
- Liaison - an individual who spends part of his or her working time as a local expert and interfacing with informatics or information technology professionals
Most current informatics leaders also believe there is a growing need for “local experts” in informatics. As we know that one of the major success factors for an IT project is engagement of the user community, there will be a growing need for those who represent the “users” in a well-informed way.
It should also be noted that the lines between the above categories are fuzzy. The informatics leader at a large medical center may well need (or desire) the breadth of training of an academic informatician. Likewise, the local expert in a community hospital or large clinical practice may also want to have additional training at or near the level of an informatics professional. The amount of expertise among the levels, especially between expert and professional, may really be more of a continuum, with the expert advancing to the professional level as his or her career develops.
With this basic overview of the field, we can now move on to the basic question of this posting: what is the right informatics education for me to pursue? This discussion will emanate from the context of the educational program we have developed at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU); other programs have some or all of the comparable levels of training.
The programs at OHSU have been developed in a building-block fashion. That is, coursework done at the lower levels can be carried forward to the higher levels. It should be noted that all of the programs at OHSU are currently at the graduate level, i.e., require a bachelor’s degree to enter. While there are some undergraduate informatics programs developing in the US, it is not clear whether the breadth of knowledge and experience can be obtained in a single baccalaureate or associate degree.
OHSU’s informatics programs are available both on our campus and via distance learning. We have successfully offered most of our courses and programs on-line for nearly a decade. Our program has evolved to the point where on-line and on-campus offerings are considered equivalent and are not distinguished on a student’s transcript. Distance learning does not mean “distant” learning. We have standardized on a number of technologies that provide high-quality and interactive education. Our courses are not correspondence courses, and require a reasonable commitment of one’s time for success. Almost all of the course activities are, however, asynchronous, meaning that students can access the material on their schedule as long as they keep up with the overall class.
Most of our courses, whether on-line or on-campus, are three-credit courses. As OHSU is on an academic quarter system, courses are 11 weeks in duration. A three-credit course typically means a commitment of 6-10 hours per week of work. Most courses have activities typical of university courses, with lectures (on-line classes typically use voice over slides), readings, term projects, homework, and examinations. You can access a demo version of the program's introductory course with the login/password bmi_demo/format.
One pathway into the OHSU program is the 10x10 Program. Run in partnership with the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), this program aims to train individuals at the Liaison level. The 10x10 moniker comes from a goal to train 10,000 health care professionals by the year 2010 in basic informatics so they can be local experts representing users in their communities. About 15% of people taking 10x10 pursue subsequent study in the OHSU graduate program.
The 10x10 course is an adaptation of the introductory course in the OHSU curriculum, with the addition of a 1-2 day in-person session covering additional material in an interactive manner. As such, the 10x10 course can be used for subsequent credit in the other OHSU programs pending successful completion of the course’s final examination (which is not required to complete 10x10). The topics in the curriculum of the 10x10 course would not surprise most people familiar with the informatics field and include:
- Overview of Field and Problems Motivating It
- Biomedical Computing
- Electronic Health Records
- Clinical Decision Support
- EHR Implementation
- Standards and Interoperability
- Privacy, Confidentiality, and Security
- Secondary Use of Clinical Data: Personal Health Records, Health Information Exchange, Public Health, Health Care Quality, Clinical Research
- Evidence-Based Medicine and Medical Decision Making
- Information Retrieval and Digital Libraries
- Imaging Informatics and Telemedicine
- Translational Bioinformatics
- Organizational and Management Issues in Informatics
OHSU offers two master’s degree programs, which differ only in their culminating project. The Master of Science (MS) in Biomedical Informatics requires a master’s thesis, while the Master of Biomedical Informatics (MBI) is a “professional master’s” and requires a less-intensive capstone project. The master’s degree programs have two “tracks,” one in medical informatics and the other in bioinformatics.
The curriculum for each of the tracks is organized into “domains,” each of which are general curriculum areas and have both required and choices from among a list. The five domains in the medical informatics track are:
- Biomedical informatics - core courses in informatics science and applications
- Organizational and management sciences - business and management issues
- Computer science - practical introduction; concepts more important than programming
- Health and biomedicine - for non-clinicians
- Research methods - statistics plus quantitative and qualitative methods
More information about the individual programs can be found on the OHSU Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology Web site. The 10x10 program is administered by AMIA and offered twice a year. The Graduate Certificate program has rolling admissions, i.e., students are admitted any quarter to begin classes the following one. The master’s and PhD programs, however, only have admissions once a year to begin in the fall quarter.
OHSU also offers a fellowship program funded by a training grant from the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Additional clinically oriented fellowships are offered in partnership with Kaiser Permanente Northwest (KPNW) and the Veteran’s Administration (VA). Two types of fellowships are available from the NLM training grant:
- Predoctoral - stipend and tuition support for some students in the PhD program
- Postdoctoral - for those with doctoral (e.g., MD or PhD) degrees who seek advanced training, with or without a degree (although most pursue a master’s degree)
1. Hersh WR, Who are the informaticians? What we know and should know. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 2006. 13: 166-170.
2. Hersh W, Health and Biomedical Informatics: Opportunities and Challenges for a Twenty-First Century Profession and its Education, in IMIA Yearbook of Medical Informatics 2008, Geissbuhler A and Kulikowski C, Editors. 2008, Schattauer: Stuttgart, Germany. 138-145.
3. Covvey HD, Zitner D, and Bernstein R, Pointing the Way: Competencies and Curricula in Health Informatics. 2001, University of Waterloo: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.